The Economics Of Human Sexuality

September 2nd, 2009

The relationship between money and sex is as old as the human race itself. Prostitution, often called the oldest profession on the planet, is also the one that employs more women than any other. The range of meaning when it comes to sex for money arrangement is as large as the vast economy it produces. The deep and pervasive relationship of sex and money is not going away; if anything it is a growth industry. Our discomfort about sexuality in general allows this industry to go unchecked and unregulated. There is a vast difference in sexual purchasing between patronage of child prostitutes and wealthy politicians paying for expensive call girls. The confusion between our indignation about the political hypocrisy disguised as extramarital affairs dilutes the horror we should feel and react to about children being abducted or sold into the global sex trade.

The sex trade, like few other industries, offers one of the most highly desirable products in the world and one that is often inaccessible to many people otherwise. A recent international debate about the right or wrong of paid sex highlighted the polar positions this question instigates. More often than not, money trumps sex. If the payment is high enough, sex workers will perform whatever sexual act is demanded. Acts that she would never consent to perform otherwise. Prostitution, addiction and poverty are close bedfellows. Regardless of the leader the combination creates a sex trap for many women that becomes an inescapable lifestyle of dehumanized degradation. The majority of women keep only pennies on the dollar of their earnings.

What initially captured my attention when I began studying the unique relationships between sex and money was Dr. Alexa Albert’s revelation, as seen in her book ‘Brothel: Mustang Ranch and its Women.’ Albert explains that the single most ostracizing behavior a brothel prostitute can perform is to have an orgasm with her customer. Although there are certainly ongoing and regularly paid sexual arrangements that are driven by pleasure, as is portrayed by HBO’s Cat House prostitutes, most narrative accounts by prostitutes reflect the fact that mutual pleasure is not the goal and rarely an outcome.

There is some truth to the argument that whether you are in a long-term relationship or just purchasing a couple hours of fun, we all pay for the sex in our lives. When a man courts a woman for sex, he is investing in the chance that she will desire him and that their sex will be based in mutual desire. On the other hand, by hiring a prostitute he is paying for the absence of her desire for him. According to a 2004 survey of 2500 men more than 2/3 reported having paid for sex repeatedly, while 43% of those had a partner at the same time. Sexual satisfaction does not depend on mutuality for many.

While we may never agree about sexual motivations and satisfaction, coming to terms with the reality of human sexual needs and regulating its sale and profit makes sense for both customers and practitioners. In the few government-regulated brothels in the US, the incidence of STDs is almost non-existent. Sex workers are protected from some of the pimping and extortion that own them on the streets. Economists have estimated that even a minor taxing on the sexual sales in Las Vegas alone could raise over $200 million per year.

We are not going to ever end the relationship between sex and money. These two forces of power and primal need will always meet in human society. If a debate about sexual morality has any place in determining the growth and future of the sex industry it should distinguish first among the age of the participants and their capacity to consent. The sex trade is no place for children.

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